Would anybody explain how to change the following sentences into the passive?

  • He did it himself.

  • He killed himself.

  • He washed himself.


When you convert a sentence from active voice to passive voice, the subject becomes the agent (by...) or is omitted completely, and the object becomes the patient (the subject of the passive voice sentence).

The most common usages of passive voice are if

  • you want to focus on the active-voice object
  • you don't know who the active-voice subject is
  • you don't want to say who the active-voice subject is

You use a reflexive pronoun when the subject and object are the same, so there is no point in focusing on the active-voice object, as it is the same as the active-voice subject. You do know who is the active-voice subject. The only remaining justification for using passive voice would therefore be if you did not want to say who was the active-voice subject. In this case, the second and third sentences become:

He was killed.

He was washed.

Note that the meaning of himself in the first sentence is somewhat different: in this case, the reflexive pronoun really means by himself or unaided or alone. To make this passive mood without specifying the agent, you would have to say something like:

It was done by one person.

Because by himself means alone, you cannot use himself as the agent without changing the meaning, for example:

He was killed by himself - what seems like the correct passive voice sentence
He was alone when he was killed - what it actually means

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  • What about: "It was done by him personally"? And "The killing of himself was done by him personally" and "Washing himself was his personal doing" or something like that? – SovereignSun Dec 6 '17 at 4:41
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    @SovereignSun, personally means "done by the specified person and not by anybody else". dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/personally. This very specific meaning is appropriate for the first of your examples but not for the other two: furthermore, you can't really use himself in the second and third examples, because himself normally refers to the subject, and the subject in both of these sentences is a gerund- an action. – JavaLatte Dec 6 '17 at 7:17
  • An ungraceful way of expressing it is "He was killed by his own self" but this is clumsy/slangey sounding and should be avoided where educated or formal speech is expected. – LawrenceC May 24 '18 at 17:16
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    By himself does not always mean alone. Sometimes it's a reflexive construction. For example: The Life of the Late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, as Written by Himself. (Written before he died, published afterwards.) Context usually makes the meaning clear. For example, it seems unlikely that somebody would write he was killed by himself instead of he killed himself, so in that case one would assume that it meant alone. – Peter Shor Jul 13 '18 at 12:09

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